The bane of every student’s existence is the exam period, a time when students grasp at any and every method of effective studying there is. Pomodoro, SQ3R, the Leitner system – these are a few methods you have probably heard of when it comes to effective studying.
Instagram reels and TikTok are teeming with influencers and fellow students teaching you how to organise your time and ace that exam, although these practises usually start months before an exam, instead of the night before. It seems that the rite of passage of any college student is cramming the night before the exam, stressing while they hand out the test sheet and then realising you studied everything but what’s on the exam.
University mental health services tend to offer a mass of mental health workshops during this period and schools often advise students not to fall prey to the stress of cramming. The gargantuan academic monster of cramming is only fed further by procrastination which doesn’t come as a surprise. A study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that 50 percent of college students procrastinate consistently while 75 percent self-report as procrastinators.
Chronic procrastination, which can lead to that frightening cramming session, can have severe impacts on your mental and physical health. Neuroscience found that students who procrastinate consistently report having disabling pain in their arms or shoulders, terrible sleep quality, feelings of loneliness and financial difficulties.
The symptoms sound like I’m reading off the back of a pill bottle banned by the FDA. You never want to reach a point in your academic journey where your health is severely impacted, but sometimes circumstances are hard to change and maybe you really need to pass this class.
So, here are some short-term strategies to manage your stress when you feel like things are getting out of hand.
1. Move Your Body
Stress hormones activate our fight-or-flight instinct and can amp us up into even more stress. To avoid this, work according to the needs of your body, which means that you should try getting up from your desk and moving around. Try shaking your arms and legs for a couple of seconds to reset your nervous system, you’ll find that after this short exercise, your focus will be much better.
2. Taking Deep Breaths
This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you, taking deep breaths is usually used as advice before a big test or exam to calm students down and help align their body and mind. When we feel that surge of stress, our bodies usually do not get a good amount of oxygen to relax our nervous system, so face away from your textbook or computer and take a deep breath. While it’s mentioned a lot as an easy fix, deep breathing exercises might not come as easy to everyone, however through practise you will be able to master this skill.
3. Ice or Cold Water
According to Everyday Health, cold water activates your vagus nerve, which controls your parasympathetic nervous system and can help you regulate your stress levels. Try splashing cold water onto your face, using an ice roller or rubbing an ice cube over your face, neck and chest. This should snap you right out of that stressful haze!
4. Go for a Walk
Leave your desk for a bit, just for 5-10 minutes and go for a walk. Not only does this simple activity stretch your legs and arms, but it also helps release endorphins that trigger positive emotions. Going for a short walk is a great way to get out of your study environment so that you can be refreshed and return to your work with a new mindset.
5. Calming Scents
Aromatherapy can come in handy when you feel overwhelmed, Very Well Mind found that lavender can help soothe those nerves and decrease your stress. Using essential oils can trigger messages to your limbic system, which controls your behaviour and emotional responses, and initiate relaxation. Scents like sandalwood, jasmine and clary sage can also help elevate your mood and release any toxic stress from your mind.
Remember that the easiest and most practical way to manage your stress is through the active management of your workload, whether that’s through studying weeks in advance of tests or reviewing your notes daily. Each student has a unique way of learning and we must understand ourselves better to study effectively so that we don’t cause academic burnout.
There are multiple sources out there on the best ways to start your semester on the right foot and avoid cramming sessions. Preparing and studying in advance can save you from nights without sleep, unhealthy eating habits and emotional breakdowns. Of course, procrastination can also quickly become a medical issue if it’s harming you beyond your academics, in that case, you should seek the help of a mental health professional.
The strategies I have shared with you today are here to help you when you feel overwhelmed while cramming or studying for your finals. School is tough, and the never-ending slew of assessments can be incredibly tiring, however, don’t let it pile up on you. Take a deep breath, stay hydrated and take timed breaks. Good luck to everyone this finals season!
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